Evolution of genetic integration between dispersal and colonization ability in a bird

Renée A. Duckworth, Loeske E.B. Kruuk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Discrete behavioral strategies comprise a suite of traits closely integrated in their expression with consistent natural selection for such coexpression leading to developmental and genetic integration of their components. However, behavioral traits are often also selected to respond rapidly to changing environments, which should both favor their context-dependent expression and inhibit evolution of genetic integration with other, less flexible traits. Here we use a multigeneration pedigree and long-term data on lifetime fitness to test whether behaviors comprising distinct dispersal strategies of western bluebirds - a species in which the propensity to disperse is functionally integrated with aggressive behavior - are genetically correlated. We further investigated whether selection favors flexibility in the expression of aggression in relation to current social context. We found a significant genetic correlation between aggression and dispersal that is concordant with consistent selection for coexpression of these behaviors. To a limited extent, individuals modified their aggression to match their mate; however, we found no fitness consequences on such adjustments. These results introduce a novel way of viewing behavioral strategies, where flexibility of behavior, while often aiding an organism's fit in its current environment, may be limited and thereby enable integration with less flexible traits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)968-977
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2009


  • Dispersal polymorphism
  • Genetic covariance
  • Heritability
  • Temperament

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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